The overall objective of the project is to develop solutions for protracted displacement situations (PDS) that are better tailored to the needs and capacities of persons affected by displacement. Current policies struggle to find solutions to forced displacement. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are often stuck in ‘limbo’, i.e. living in situations of vulnerability, dependency and immobility, due to continuous cycles of displacement and a lack of durable options. The project will therefore aim at answering the questions whether and how PDS, dependency and vulnerability are related to the factors of connectivity and mobility. It will further look at how in turn, connectivity and mobility can be operationalized to enhance the self-reliance and resilience of displaced people.

The TRAFIG concept, the findings of comprehensive policy analyses, and empirical research in Africa, Asia and Europe will enable policy makers to effectively build upon displaced people’s own transnational strategies and experiences to find security, sustain their livelihoods and become resilient again.


We undertake comparative research in Africa, Asia and Europe

TRAFIG carries out trans-disciplinary, applied research to advise policymakers and to contribute to public debates. We apply both qualitative and quantitative research methods in camps and cities in Africa (Ethiopia, DR Congo, Tanzania), the Middle East (Jordan, Pakistan) and Europe (Greece, Italy, Germany).

We apply an innovative concept

TRAFIG introduces a novel research perspective—the figurational approach. On this basis, we investigate displaced people’s lives and dependencies, local relations between refugees and hosts and transnational network connections. We consider connectivity and mobility as resources that enhance the resilience of displaced people.

We support policymakers and practitioners to help the most vulnerable groups

TRAFIG reviews policies and legal instruments in recipient countries and on the European and global level. We develop a ‘Toolkit for Practitioners’ with which the needs of displaced people can be assessed and the risk of protractedness be measured. We provide knowledge that helps to design solutions that are tailored to displaced people’s own capacities.

We seek to give a voice to and empower those affected by displacement

TRAFIG aims to empower displaced people through a participatory research approach and by allowing them to tell their story in interviews and videos, through a photo exhibition, and by bringing these voices to the attention of policymakers, in media and the public.

Central Hypothesis

TRAFIG is grounded on the concept of ‘transnational figurations’, which stresses the networks and interdependencies of displaced people at distinct places, but in particular across borders of nation-states.Our central hypothesis is that the more connected and mobile refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) are, the less likely it is that they end up in a situation of protracted displacement (PDS) and vice versa. Our research thus focuses on the local and transnational connectivity and mobility of people. This includes both displaced people as well as host communities.

Five key research themes

Theme 1: Navigating through Governance Regimes of Aid and Asylum

The project analyses how displaced people find access to, are conditioned by, and react to humanitarian aid, asylum and migration policies. Protection regimes at various levels will be taken into consideration:

  • the global level (e.g. the Refugee Convention from 1951),
  • the regional level (e.g. OAU’s Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems or the EU’s Common European Asylum System)
  • the national level (e.g. asylum, immigration and integration laws)
  • the local level (e.g. norms, directives and orders).

All levels shape the dynamic evolution, prolongation or dissolution of displacement. Displacement situations are particularly characterised by the separation of protection policies at different places and at different scale levels. Research will assess to what extent the aforementioned policies and programs actually target and meet the complex needs of displaced people. The project analyses how displaced individuals, families and other collectives navigate through institutional landscapes of refugee protection and through migration and labour market regimes in order to find protection and assistance. Findings will help to understand how future programming and policymaking can better meet the needs of displaced people, in particular how the EU can support their self-reliance and resilience.

Theme 2: Living in ‘Limbo’ – Livelihood (In)Security and Immobility in protracted displacement situations (PDS)

TRAFIG aims to better understand the everyday life of displaced people. Refugees are often stuck in local places, such as camps or informal settlements in cities. The research will assess displaced people’s livelihood strategies; networks of support within and beyond families; and access to local labour markets. The project investigates to what extent access to livelihood strategies and ‘living in limbo’ are depended on the gender and how immobility affects individual well-being. The findings will thus highlight the interdependence of needs and vulnerabilities with everyday strategies and the local networks of displaced people.

Theme 3: Following the Networks – Connectivity and Mobility out of protracted displacement situations (PDS)

TRAFIG will investigate aspirations for mobility, actual mobility and spatial trajectories of displaced persons. Mobility can include secondary moves within a country of (first) reception, onward-mobility, resettlement to third countries, or return to the country of origin. We will simultaneously observe the connectivity and mobility of four focal groups (Afghans, Syrians, Eritreans, and Congolese) in multiple sites and countries. In order to understand how economic, social or cultural flows circulate across borders we will follow the connections and networks of these groups across borders. This will allow us to see how governance structures and how transnational networks facilitate mobility. And how they further contribute to providing protection, to securing livelihoods and to widening future opportunities.

Theme 4: Building Alliances – Integration and Inter-group Relations between Refugees and Hosts

The social dynamics and interactions between host communities and displaced people are of particular importance for this project. Relations between the refugees and host communities are constantly contested and transformed. Field research will shed light to what extent the inter-group relations between refugees and hosts depend on the size of the displaced groups, the duration of the displacement situation, on locally available resources for addressing the needs of refugees and host communities alike. Furthermore, policies, political ideologies and public discourses on integration, previous historical experience, and existing intercultural competencies and transnational connections will be highlighted.

The results will illustrate how refugees and host communities perceive and interact with one another, where and why conflicts arise, or why resistances to temporary reception and permanent integration of displaced people exist. Our investigations will thereby enhance the ability of practitioners to foster dialogue and build trust between refugee and host communities.

Theme 5: Seizing Opportunities – Development Incentives and New Economic Interactions

TRAFIG seeks to map the economic impacts of PDS, for instance on local labour relations and trans-national trade relations. We will ask how the economy that revolves around the provision of shelter, food and services for displaced people can have positive effects on local and regional economies. The question how the local population can participate in these new economic interactions (linking up to Theme 4). The situation of more competition in the labour market has different effects for employers or unqualified workers from the host community. We are interested in new markets for products such as specific foods and cultural products, opened by the arrival of refugees, but also in new transnational economic linkages between regions and countries in general (see Theme 3).

Overall, local services, local labour markets and local markets can get significant development impulses through the very presence, specific needs, and cultural practices of larger groups of refugees and through displaced peoples’ business investments and transnational connections. Evidence based progressive policies and investment strategies can thus have multiple positive economic spillover-effects and set new incentives for regional development.

Work packages

TRAFIG will achieve its objectives and impacts through a phased and sequential work plan that consists of ten work packages.

Phase 1

involves desk research on the conceptual and methodological development of the project (Work Package 1: Conceptualising transnational figurations of displacement), a literature review of historical cases of protracted displacement situations (WP 2: Learning from the past) and an analysis of the current governance structure in relevant policy fields (WP 3: Governing Displacement).

Phase 2

encompasses empirical research on protracted displacement situations in Africa (WP 4: Displacement in Africa), Asia (WP 5: Investigating transnational figurations of displacement in the Middle East ) and Europe (WP 6: Investigating transnational figurations of displacement in Europe). On the basis of the findings, insights will be formulated with the aim to develop solutions for PDS in

Phase 3

On the basis of the findings of Phase 1 and 2, insights will be formulated with the aim to develop solutions for protracted displacement situations (PDS) (WP 7: Identifying Solutions: Connectivity and Mobility for Protection ).

Cutting across all phases

These work packages are specifically devoted to making the final results of the project applicable and beneficial for the different target groups of the project, like policy-makers, Humanitarian & Development Practice and Academia (WP 8: Creating Impact: Stakeholder Engagement and Policy Responses). Work Package 9 is dedicated to Project management and communication, while Work Package 10 encompasses specific ethical requirements.